As well as health and safety issues surrounding the Coronavirus response, companies and individuals who operate waste management facilities under an environmental permit must comply with the requirements of their permit. There are a number of areas where operators could breach their environmental permit. For example, operators must ensure that they have technical competence cover for sites, and this could be problematic where the technically competent manager (TCM) is off sick or needs to self-isolate. Bringing in alternative TCM cover may be possible but this normally requires notification to the Environment Agency.
If operations on site need to cease due to lack of staff or some other reason, then the operator is normally required to notify the regulator of the fact. Details of how and when to notify will be detailed in the environmental permit conditions.
Where temporary workers are taken on to replace staff off sick or self-isolating then the operator must ensure that a suitable induction is carried out which often requires information about the environmental permit, safety and environmental procedures as well as any monitoring requirements.
Finally, operators will need to ensure that waste returns are submitted as required by the permit even if waste imports and exports from site have ceased. Generally, it is recommended that early discussion with the Environment Agency is established where permit requirements may not be possible due to the coronavirus situation.
Breach of an environmental permit is a criminal offence which can result in unlimited fines on conviction. However, there is a statutory defence to such a breach where the person charged can prove that the acts alleged to constitute the contravention were done in an emergency in order to avoid danger to human health provided that (i) the person took all such steps as were reasonably practicable in the circumstances for minimising pollution, and (ii) particulars of the acts were furnished to the regulator as soon as reasonably practicable after they were done. The coronavirus situation may constitute ‘an emergency’ provided by the defence but this will often depend upon the circumstances in each case.
The current coronavirus situation provides an opportunity for scams and other illegal activity. The waste industry is not excluded from these unscrupulous activities and criminals may take advantage of unoccupied land or buildings to illegally deposit waste, especially if approved waste routes are limited or more costly than usual. A number of Councils have suspended or reduced waste collection services this week due to staff shortages connected with the coronavirus situation. Those who own land or buildings should ensure that access is prevented, and the use of security may be appropriate to prevent fly tipping.
If your business requires advice regarding your environmental permit or waste management operations, please contact one of the Jacksons’ Regulatory Team.